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How Do Solar Panels Work?

by | Mar 26, 2021 | Common Questions About Solar, Residential Solar

If you’re looking for a way to reduce your electricity bills or eliminate them completely, solar panels are perfect. But how do they work?

Of course, we all know that solar panels turn sunlight into electricity, but not everyone knows the actual science behind it, so-to-speak. 

Well, since this article is a two-minute read, I’d say it’s time well spent to get a basic concept of how solar panels work.

Before we dive into the “deep” concepts of the “photovoltaic effect” –  which is simply the ability of a material to produce and emit electricity when exposed to sunlight – let me quickly cover the basics of it.

How Solar Panels Generate Electricity

How do solar panels work
  1. Sunlight, specifically UV rays, hit solar panels that are made of silicon cells, and produce electricity in the form of direct current. 
  2. Because your home cannot use direct current electricity, the direct electricity produced by solar panels is transformed into alternating current by an inverter. 
  3. The transformed or “inverted” electricity is sent into your home through the breaker box and used. 
  4. Unused or extra electricity is forwarded to your local power grid. 
  5. The power grid gives you electricity during moments that the sun is not shining, for example at night.

When you have solar panels, your electric meter runs backward anytime you send extra or unused electricity to the power grid and runs forward anytime you use electricity from the power grid. 

By reviewing how much electricity you generally use, a well-designed solar power system will produce enough electricity to cover your home’s power needs and therefore offset your power meter 100%. 

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What is The Photovoltaic Effect?

It sounds kind of complicated right? 

Well, it’s actually super simple. 

It gets a whole lot simpler if I tell you that “photo” means light and “voltaic” means “volt”. 

So it’s basically volts produced by light. 

Solar panels and photovoltaic technology have actually been around since the late 1940s, so it’s not even very “advanced” stuff. 

So how do solar panels make electricity?

  1. Solar panels are made up of cells that are able to capture and emit electricity from the sun. Most solar panels are made of silicon. 
  2. These silicon cells use photons from the sun to produce electrons. Photons are simply massless elementary particles found in sunlight that carry energy – that’s right, sun rays contain energy. And an electron is, to keep this basic, a single unit of electricity. 
  3. Solar cells are designed with positively and negatively charged layers of silicon sandwiched together. This “sandwich” creates an electric field that forces the electrons emitted by the silicon cells towards conductive metal plates that line each cell. 
  4. Once this flow or rather “electric current” hits the conductive metal, it is then directed into wires.
  5. The wires then transport these electrons in the form of direct current to an inverter, which transforms them into electricity that your home can use. 

Voila! You now understand the basic concept behind solar panels’ ability to produce electricity! 

There is a bit more complicated “science” stuff behind the production of electricity but the above gives you a very basic explanation of how solar panels work. 

If you would like more information or have any questions please leave a comment on this blog. 

I hope that this information is helpful and thank you for taking the time to read it! 

Ricardo SolArticle by:
Ricardo Sol
Senior Editor, Ensolar
info@ensolar.energy